Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Being a childfree Catholic

This has been heavy on my mind lately. I don’t talk much about why I don’t want kids because there is already a plethora of blogs, forums and websites that address “childfreedom.” My childfreedom and sexuality are connected though, so it isn’t completely outside the scope of this blog.

It would be inaccurate to say I never ever wanted kids. In high school, I told Mom I would have up to four kids. I even had names picked out for my “future” children. I remember talking about what kinds of toys I would buy, what kind of house I would live in, what I would do with the kids when I got sick of them: “Go outside and don’t come back in until dark!”

Looking back, though, I realize that there is a difference between “planning” for something and “wanting” something. Even though I had some Hallmark images of what being a parent would be like, pregnancy frightened and disgusted me. I also knew there was always the possibility that my kids could grow up to be psychopaths. It rubbed me the wrong way whenever someone said, “The most womanly thing you can do is have a baby,” though at the time, I did not understand why it bothered me…

Growing up, parenthood was never presented as optional, especially not in a Catholic context. If you got married, you had kids, unless something was wrong with your body.

In my mind, sex, marriage and children were all intertwined. The Catholic Church teaches that sex has two functions: building the bond of a married (heterosexual) couple and reproduction. Essentially, sex isn’t fully “sex” unless it is fun for the couple and open to procreation, hence why it should only be done in marriage. Children are supposed to be the physical manifestation/representation of a married couple’s love for each other. So my previous goal was not to marry until I was ready to have kids. Therefore, I did not want to start dating seriously until I was ready to get married. So I really couldn’t start dating until I was ready for kids.

After some extensive soul-searching in my mid-twenties, I realized I will never be “ready” for kids. My life decisions were not leading me to parenthood, and I really wasn’t keen on the idea of being a mom after all. I had become a “fencesitter” in my early twenties. In my mid-twenties, I gladly placed myself on the “childfree” side of the fence.

Right after I came to this realization, I went to a friend’s wedding. During the reception, the priest started talking about the couple’s future family. I thought, “That will never be me up there. I will never get married, because I am never having kids.”

A couple months later, though, I read an article in a local newspaper about married couples who chose not to have kids. I thought, “You can do that?” That idea captured my imagination.

The thought of being married to a man and raising kids with him was weird, uncomfortable, scary, strange, even nauseating. But to just be married to a man, to have all the years of marriage be like everyone else’s “early years of marriage, before the kids were born,” that sounded exciting! Soon after I read that article, I made online dating profiles.

So my childfreedom is actually what motivated me to date. I no longer saw kids as necessary to marriage. Of course, this does not fly in the Catholic (or perhaps any) Church. Human sterilization is actually a “mortal sin” (though you can actually still get married despite being sterilized) and a Catholic marriage has to be open to children. So how do I survive in this Church?

As pro-natal as the Church is, the Church also recognizes the many gifts of single people. Many Catholic saints neither married nor had kids, and the Church points to them as examples of how we should live. Also, because I live in a major Catholic city, I have choices for parishes. I previously attended a parish that mainly held events for families with children and senior citizens. They had nothing for single young adults (without kids). I now attend a parish with a high young adult population. It hosts events for young adults weekly. There is actually a middle-aged married couple who joins in the activities too, and they have no kids. I never asked them why they had no kids, but it inspires me. They found a place. I can too.

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